by Joan Hiver
Alev, Alev, which is into its 8th episode, is a Turkish dizi adapted from the French series Le Bazar de la Charite, available on Netflix as Bonfire of Destiny. The plot of the French series is spun off of a true event. In 1897, a great fire broke out at the annual charity bazar held in Paris, which was attended by well known aristocratic women. A major attraction at that year’s bazar was cinematographic equipment. The ether lamps exploded causing a ferocious fire. The 126 deaths were not just due to the blaze but also due to the panic which ensued as the women tried to find poorly marked or unmarked exits. The depiction of the blaze in the French series is a fantastic working of special effects.
SPECTACULAR SPECIAL EFFECTS
Likewise, the Ay Yapim production succeeds in reproducing a spectacular display of the huge fire which occurs at a charity event in support of women’s issues in episode one of Alev, Alev. In many aspects besides the imitation of phenomenal special effects to depict a deadly blaze, Alev, Alev shares similarities with Le Bazar de la Charite. Propane gas tanks in the kitchen area of the historical venue explode causing a fire. As the flames rage and spread throughout the building, the mostly female guests are trapped, trampled and burned because of the lack of exits. The special effects visually convey the intense heat, the spreading flames, the collapsing interiors, the choking smoke, the panic, and the horror. Director Ahmet Kataksiz’s work is brilliant in portraying the blaze on screen and capturing how humans react in the face of death by fire.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN THE UPPER CLASS
In both the French series and Alev, Alev the fire is used as a catalyst to propel the narrative and develop the themes regarding the strength, the spirit and the struggle of three women to overcome different forms of oppression. Cemre Kayabeli, oppressed by her husband’s systematic abuse, finds the opportunity to escape his grasp. Ruya Yildirimlar discovers that oppression can be found in the very codes by which we are asked to live our lives. Cicek Gorgulu lives the oppression caused by disfigurement, trauma and the sudden loss of identity.
Initially, we are introduced to the abuse faced by Cemre Kayabeli, wife of the former mayor of Istanbul and head of the prominent Kayabeli family, Celebi. For years, Cemre has been subjected to physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her misogynistic husband. He has had her committed to a psychiatric hospital on several occasions, claiming that she is mentally unstable; he forces her to take daily medication in order to control her and prevent her from receiving any credibility either from those close to her or from professionals she might turn to for help. He thwarts any effort on her behalf to seek help by threatening to separate her from their little daughter, Gunes. Through his wealth, power and influence and the false image which Celebi has cultivated around his person, no one knows, suspects or would believe that he is such a beast. In the community, he is a prime supporter of the rights of women. He has managed to convince even Cemre’s Uncle and cousin, Ruya, that Cemre is self destructive and mentally ill. In spite of the oppression which she has lived, Cemre displays inordinate resolve, strength and determination to take her child and leave. She has tried to seek help on many occasions but has been left without support.
On the day the story begins, Cemre is expected to attend the charity event being organized by her cousin, Ruya. Celebi lies that he will not be able to attend with her in order to lure her into using the opportunity presented by his supposed absence. He is certain she will take Gunes and run away thus providing him with an excuse to lock her up in a mental health facility again. Cemre acts as Celebi has predicted. She takes money and the passports from the home safe and alerts Gunes to be waiting for her at a specified time. Cemre indeed plans to escape as Celebi believes; however, the fateful fire torches both Cemre’s plans and those of Celebi.
THE CHARITY EVENT
The organizer of the charity event where the fire will break out is a young beautiful socialite named Ruya Yildirimlar. She is the daughter of a prominent Istanbul businessman and although she has studied law, she has never practised, even once. She is engaged to marry Iskender Kayabeli, Celebi’s brother. Ruya’s choice to hold the event in an ancient historical building with only one exit proves disastrous. During the charity event, propane gas canisters explode in the basement kitchen area. Although made to look like an accidental explosion, in fact, the canisters have been made to explode in order to hide the smuggling operation of Kenan Yildirimlar and the Kayabeli brothers. Recognizing no social class or gender, the blaze quickly spreads causing trauma, disfigurement, and death.
THE FACE OF DEATH
The panicked guests try to leave through the one and only exit. Simal, one of Ruya’s closest friends and daughter of Dr. Tomris Ustunoglu , is trampled to death as she tries to escape. In his panic, Iskender leaves Ruya behind to a sure death, while he pushes her maid and best friend, Cicek, out of his way, and into the flames. Fortunately, Ruya is saved by the heroic efforts of Omer Atayci, a young man working as a waiter at the event that night.
Cicek is rescued and taken to Dr. Tomris’ hospital ; her face has been disfigured, her vocal chords have been affected and much of the one side of her body has been burned. She is unconscious and not expected to survive. Her identity is unknown when she arrives at the hospital. Ruya and Cicek’s fiance, Ali, look everywhere for her but they are forced to presume she is dead. Dr. Tomris confirms Cicek’s death to Ali and Ruya, knowing that she has switched the identities of her deceased daughter, Simal, with that of Cicek.
As the writers of Alev, Alev skillfully frame the dramatic struggle of Ruya and Cicek, which will ensue in the aftermath of the fire, Cemre’s destiny too will be subject to great alteration due to the fire. Cemre’s original plan to use the charity event as a means of escape changes due to the unforeseen events on the night. Escaping through a bathroom window, Cemre escapes from the building before the explosion.
As Cemre witnesses the horrific event, she also observes that Celebi has set a trap for her when she notices the presence of his men and later Celebi himself at the scene. Concern for the safety of Ruya and in a panic, Cemre stays at the scene trying to rethink the way forward. She is aware that with Celebi not in Ankara, she cannot take Gunes and disappear. She can make it look as though she has died in the fire thus giving herself much needed time to decide how she will successfully elude him. Cemre’s fate is not just altered by the blaze but also by a journalist, Ozan Akinsel, who, quite by chance, watches her jump out of the bathroom window. Sensing a story, as he understands who she is, he hangs around and agrees to help her leave the scene and hide.
The blaze and the chance meeting with journalist, Ozan, afford Cemre the destiny altering possibility to elude Celebi and make him believe, if only for a few days, that she has perished in the great fire. Ozan helps her disappear into the Yedikule district of Istanbul where he lives with his mother. Celebi would not initially think of looking for her in a working class neighborhood such as Yedikule. Ozan takes the jewelry she was wearing the night of the charity event and places it in the morgue as the property of one of the unidentified bodies for Celebi to discover. Omer helps Ozan secure passports for Cemre and Gunes under false names.
Ironically, Cemre is helped and protected by Ozan and Omer even after her whereabouts is discovered by Celebi. Their continued support helps restore Cemre’s trust in men. The writer takes care to accuse only those men who deserve shame and punishment for their crimes, reinforcing the theme that trust and hope are not futile ideas for women of abuse. Men and women are both necessary in this struggle against abuse.This decision by the dizi not to vilify all men serves to present a more balanced picture of the true nature of domestic violence and abuse.
Just as Cemre crosses paths with Ozan and in him finds an honorable man ; so Ruya is struck by Omer’s heroism. The two friends from Yedikule may not bear the title of gentleman or possess wealth and status, but they both are examples of virtue ; men cut from a different cloth than all the men within Cemre and Ruya’s social circle.
Kenan Yildirimlar, Ruya’s father and Cemre’s uncle is involved in smuggling of artifacts, is close to bankruptcy and has squandered Cemre’s inheritance. Iskender is a coward who has looked to save himself before aiding anyone in the burning building. He is ruthless, vindictive and a thief ; while Celebi is the worst low life imaginable, beating his wife and hiding behind a false persona. However, the dizi is not just another story having domestic violence as a subject.
Alev, Alev is more about the many forms of oppression ; for example, the oppression exercised against women’s psyche by making them subliminally conform to expected roles in society. Or, the oppression exerted by class distinction. Moreover, the dizi presents how the free expression of speech, ideas and truth in the media can be squashed by power, wealth and influence. The dizi also focuses on the oppression posed by ignorance and poverty and how physical disfigurement limits freedom and choice. Oppression is not restricted to gender. Men, too, can be victims as witnessed in the situation that Ozan and Omer must face because of their efforts to help and support Cemre.
APPEARANCE VERSUS REALITY
The dizi deliberately chooses the victim of domestic violence and oppression to be a member of the upper class. Abuse can more easily be hidden from the view of family, friends, and others in an upper class environment. Education, social standing, professional respect make it easy for these men to remain hidden and untouchable. Even if identified, prosecution is far more difficult as they have influence and means to avoid such. This depiction helps the dizi debunk the myth that abusers are low class, uneducated, unemployed louts. Removing this prejudicial misconception that only low class men abuse is of paramount significance.
A wealthy, powerful opponent like Celebi is virtually impossible to battle, as Cemre knows. After the fire, her exposure to the medical / legal system reinforces her knowledge about the difficulty a woman faces when she must prove the abuse. Her lack of income and loss of her family money hinders her chances of custody and she can even face criminal charges by being charged with kidnapping her own child. As Cemre’s determination grows, so does her ability to comprehend that she must expose Celebi for who he really is and what he has done, if she is to have a chance. Ozan and Omer gather concrete evidence which shows that Celebi and Iskender are involved in the tragic fire. After delivering evidence to the police, Iskender and Celebi are arrested on suspicion.
The near death experience from the fire, Iskender’s abandonment, Cicek’s death, her father’s objections and demands because of her attraction to Omer, make Ruya experience an epiphany about how shallow and prescribed her privileged life really is. In the face of death, Ruya is exposed to the character which Iskender truly possesses. She witnesses his cowardice, his lack of sacrifice and lack of humanity. She encounters a potential brutality in her betrothed. She cannot help but compare the actions of Omer, a man who is not related to her, but who acts above and beyond even human expectation.
The breaking off of her engagement with Iskender brings her into direct conflict with her father and Iskender’s family and draws her attention to the fact that she has been raised to follow a code of conduct expected for women of upper class society to follow. Get an education that you may never use, marry within your class for mutual economic and social benefit, conduct yourself as your father or husband prescribe. Follow these rules or you will be cut off financially.
As if this truth is not enough, Ruya comes face to face with palpable hatred and justifiable anger from the families of the victims of the fire who blame her for picking such an unsuitable venue from a public safety perspective. Her shallow world is shattered by this and the apparent death of Cicek. Self examination of her possible role in the tragedy, with no essential support from her father leads Ruya to decide that she must take charge of her own destiny. Omer’s arrest and her inevitable acceptance and belief that Cemre is telling the truth about Celebi lead her to use her law degree and break through a major barrier of personal ignorance.
THE FACE OF HEORISM AND UNEXPECTED LOVE
Ruya’s hero is Omer Atayci, who, at the charity event, was filling in as a waiter for a friend. Omer, from the Yedikule district of Istanbul, runs a small second hand store. Well loved by all in the mahalle, Omer is courageous, smart, honors human life and is selfless as he proves from his behavior the night of the fire. When he discounts his life in order to save the lives of women first and then men he does not know, he honors the universal code that women and children are aided first in life threatening situations. His bearing out of this code magnifies the selfish inability of Iskender and many other men of the upper class to comply with this code of behavior thus making a mockery of themselves and their supposed title as civilized gentlemen. Simal and other women are trampled to death by men looking to save themselves first. The more Ruya spends time with Omer, the more she is drawn to his honest, sensitive, humorous nature. The more she revolves around him, the more she dissolves his preconceived ideas about stereotypical princesses. Omer and Ruya’s effervescent chemistry and growing attraction is unpreventable and delightful to watch.
As Iskender and Celebi arrange for Omer to be turned into a scapegoat for the arson, Ruya takes on the responsibility to be his lawyer thus making him her first client. This targeting of the true hero in the story shows how oppression comes in many forms. Using their wealth, power and position, both Kayabeli brothers try to frighten, harass, injure and jail Omer hoping that Omer will be stopped in his pursuit of truth by reminding Omer of his rightful place, socially beneath them.
As Ruya explains to Omer, Iskender and men like him do not ask ; rather, they demand in a commanding tone, always expecting to be given and never entertaining the thought that they might be denied. Their bullying and arrogance knows no gender or boundary. Similarly, the same oppression is imposed upon Ozan who has helped Cemre in her quest to escape Celebi.
Iskender has Ozan fired from his newspaper, discredited and his articles censored while Celebi tries to create the illusion of impropriety between him and Cemre in the press and in the neighborhood in order for custody of Gunes to remain with him. Luckily, Ozan is able to appeal and convince his old journalism professor to publish the story linking Celebi and Iskender with the man who actually effected the explosions causing the fire. The suppression of news and ideas is another important form of oppression.
THE TYRANNY OF DISFIGUREMENT
Another victim of the fire is Cicek who has been much more than a maid in Ruya’s household. Ruya and Cicek have been together since Cicek was twelve. Even if from very different classes, Ruya considers Cicek the sister she does not have. As the dizi begins, the viewer is told that Cicek and Ali will be marrying within a few days. They are very much in love and the bond between them is strong. Cicek’s concern for Ruya during the fire and her insistence that Iskender save Ruya, lead to her being thrown down into the fire.
The critically burned body of Cicek and the lifeless, trampled body of Simal arrive at Dr. Tomris’ hospital at the same time. Dr. Tomris is aware immediately that the dead girl is indeed her daughter, Simal, by the tatooed name of her grandson, Atlas, on the wrist of the body. She sends the unidentified girl to surgery to save her life but very quickly decides to switch identities of the two women thus pronouncing that Simal is alive and later falsifying DNA to indicate that the dead body of her daughter belongs to Cicek.
Atlas, Simal’s son, has been rendered mute due to unexplained psychological trauma at the hands of his father, Bulent. Tomris’ fear is that her son- in- law will take Atlas away if he discovers that Simal has died. For this reason, she perpetrates this huge illegal and unethical deception with the eventual consent of Cicek.
Oppressed by her disfigurement and thoughts that Ali will not want her, in conjunction with her empathy for Atlas’ predicament, Cicek accepts Tomris’ proposal to become Simal. Tomris’ reasons may be rationalized by her intentions to protect Atlas but the amount of her pressure on Cicek is unbearable. The irony is that the only comfort and true sympathy Cicek finds is in little Atlas and he in her. Atlas immediately recognizes her real identity. Moreover, Cicek must fight her growing fear of Bulent’s potential violence, the torment of having Ali so close to her yet fear of his reaction to her disfigurement keep her silent. Further complications arise from seeing Iskender going without punishment for manslaughter.
Cemre’s hiding in Yedikule and Ruya’s involvement with Omer, also from this mahalle, help bring the two cousins together. The estrangement between them because Ruya has not believed Cemre’s accusations about Celebi dissolve due to Ruya’s recent awakening and maturity. Ruya’s willingness to help Cemre and Cemre’s belief that she can trust her cousin, lead to bonding and essential, practical information on legal steps necessary in order for a woman to successfully challenge her husband on custody in the courts.
This realistic approach instead of melodramatic protestations by the dizi lends itself well to a balanced icon about how to deal with abuse. The importance of economic security and how the lack of it can hinder a woman’s decision to fight against her husband is also given adequate treatment. Cemre has no money after leaving Celebi and as her Uncle Kenan has squandered her inheritance, she is penniless. However, Ruya suffers a similar fate as Celebi orders the banks to foreclose on her father because Ruya is helping Cemre.
Fortunately, the support of Ozan and his mother for housing provides them with shelter. The fall from riches and privilege, and the positive acceptance by Ruya and Cemre of their circumstances, sends another beneficial message from this dizi about how the rich, too, are not immune from this misfortune. The field is level where domestic violence is the issue. The women accept their new circumstances with grace and humor, knowing it is better to be penniless and free, than in luxury, oppressed and abused.
One of the most important aspects that women must face in escaping from abuse is dealing with the perceptions of others; sadly, even the views of other women. Ozan’s mother is shocked, angry and clearly defends the mayor. Celebi’s visit to her house and his arguments and theatre have clearly won her over. She does not believe that Celebi has abused his wife. Besides, a mother’s place is with her child. She wants Cemre to return home, next to her husband, where she belongs. The women in the mahalle as well represent their own form of entrenched ideas. She is more worried about gossip against her son than whether there is truth in Cemre’s story. Other women in the neighborhood follow Ozan’s mother’s lead in judging Cemre. However, when Seher inadvertently hears Cemre’s cries and prayers for Gunes, her attitude softens.
The writer of Alev, Alev, Burcu Gorgun Toptas, is to be commended for writing such a diligent, interesting script about oppression, in general; domestic abuse, in specific. She presents the subject of domestic violence without furnishing frightening images of the actual beatings. It is much more terrifying to imagine what Celebi has done by committing Cemre to a mental institution, making it look like the bodily harm he caused was really her suicide attempt. The acting of Cem Bender (also a villian in Kurt Seyit Ve Sura) is so convincing as Celebi that the viewer recoils whenever he appears on screen.
Cemre, played by Demet Evgar personifies her role to perfection. Not looking like the conventional socialite contributes to her demeanor as a woman forced to comply yet who possesses tremendous determination, backbone and spunk. Another great advantage for the dizi is its cast of relatively young and not so well known actors who have incredible energy and talent to portray their roles. Some may recognize Hazar Erguclu, who portrays Cicek Gorgulu, from her role in Kuzey Guney. As Cicek, Hazar successfully demonstrates a person feeling pain and bitterness because of her disfigurement, but she also succeeds in portraying a person who has not lost her sensitivity. Although in physical and psychological pain, she has a capacity to support and help Atlas cope.
Berkay Ates, who interprets the character of Ozan Akinsel, is known for his role as a brutal abuser in Anne, but the transformation to the diametric opposite personality of Ozan is a credit to his acting versatility. Cihangir Ceyhan as Omer is refreshing to observe in his street smart, yet pure interpretation completely fitting opposite the lithe, gorgeous, well intentioned and good hearted princess, Ruya, played by Dilan Cicek Deniz.
The choice to use the Yedikule, seven towered fortress historic area of the Fatih district of Istanbul, lends itself well to showing viewers a completely different mahalle than the majority of dizis use as a setting.
This alluring setting, freshness in acting talent, sensitive writing, strong plot and effective direction have produced a very powerful dizi, which not only delivers a sound treatment of domestic violence but also relates a great story about love being found in unexpected people and places. The brotherhood between Omer and Ozan trumps even blood brother relationships. Fire, the powerful symbol in the dizi, scorches the lives of all the characters. However, some will rise like the mythological Phoenix from the ashes. Without a doubt, Alev, Alev is, as the Turks say, alev, alev!
Alev, Alev airs on Thursdays on Show TV. Here is the trailer for Episode 9, to air on January 7, 2021. You can select English captions under settings.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Joan Hiver
Author: Joan Hiver is a retired English Literature Professor who has taught English Literature at both secondary school and university levels. For many years Joan also served on the Board of Directors of an International Private School. At the moment, she is trying her hand on writing a children’s book. A native of Canada , Joan moved to the United States after her marriage. She is the mother of three children. Joan discovered the Turkish dizi when she and her family lived in Europe. Besides being a die-hard fan of Turkish dizis since 2006, she enjoys sewing, needlepoint, gardening, cooking and detective fiction of any kind.
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